From Canton, Ohio
It was like all the strings of Derrick Thomas’ life were tied together Saturday night inside a high school football stadium that is in the shadows of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Far from his native Miami, his college home in Alabama and his adopted hometown of Kansas City, all the pieces of Thomas’ life converged in an evening of celebration and emotion as Thomas entered the Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2009.
He will now forever be a resident of Canton shrine that holds the greatest men to play the game of professional football.
“I know Derrick is smiling down now and is very happy that he’s now with some of the greatest players that ever played the game,” said his mother Edith Morgan. “He’d be so happy that this moment has come.”
While the Fawcett Stadium crowd of 12,695 was decidedly pro-Buffalo with the induction of Bills owner Ralph Wilson and the great pass rusher DE Bruce Smith, there was a big showing of Chiefs and D.T. fans wearing the red No. 58 throughout the stands and seats set up on the playing field.
They joined his mother and all his children in the audience, with his oldest son Derrion on the stage to accept the honor in the name of his family, with his surrogate father Carl Peterson presenting him for induction, with his favorite coaches led by a teary Marty Schottenheimer and teammates from Neil Smith and Kevin Ross, to Deron Cherry and Dave Szott who were all in the crowd, that would have been enough right there for quite an evening of celebration.
But there was more, as about a dozen students and volunteers from his Third & Long Foundation were in the crowd, as well as students from the Derrick Thomas Academy charter school in downtown Kansas City. And there were a host of former opponents who were also his friends.
The only thing missing was Derrick himself. But his career as a player and a man was honored in a fashion appropriate for his stature: with a bronze bust and a spot among the 253 greatest men in the history of the sport.
Peterson may have put it best at the end of an emotional presentation for Thomas. As the Chiefs former President-General Manager said in his speech, he and Thomas forged a special bond with their arrival together in Kansas City some 20 years ago.
“Derrick Thomas was a unique and gifted player, but he was also a unique and gifted human being,” said Peterson. “Derrick this is your day, along with your classmates of 2009, you have earned this honor because of the way you played the game of football. All of us that knew you celebrate this day with you and your family.
“The light has gone back on and will now burn brightly not only in the community of Kansas City but here in this shrine to the game in Canton. We thank the Hall for recognizing Derrick Thomas as a worthy recipient of the status as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Peterson talked of how Thomas had three goals he wanted to accomplish during his life. In no certain order they were earning his degree from the University of Alabama, becoming the greatest football player he could become and establishing himself as a philanthropist, giving time and money back to his community.
“I’d say tonight we know that Derrick has accomplished his goals,” said Peterson.
By the time he was done with his speech, the words were catching in Peterson’s throat. That was nothing compared to the bawling mess that Schottenheimer was as he sat with his wife Pat and took in the moment. It was the same for others with Chiefs and Thomas connections that were spread throughout the stadium.
There was pride, there were tears, there were laughs and there was longing for another D.T. smile.
There were all the things that should be there when all parts of a good man’s life come together in celebration.
And from now on, he’ll be known as Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.